Saturday, February 28, 2015

Zhong Kui: Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal

I've spent some time grumbling about how we get a bunch of Chinese romances in theaters right now but seldom any action/adventure movies, which is a shame, because China does that better than many other places. I suspect that's the result of that being too well known - historically, American distributors would buy these movies up, probably for more than the Chinese studios are making for these day-and-date releases, not to mention getting on the festival circuit and getting a little more publicity there. Still, things are moving faster now, and this is the second action film in three months that Well Go has managed to get into American theaters just a couple weeks after it played China.

Interestingly, their logo didn't appear before the movie, although ones for Village Roadshow and Warner Brothers did, which always strikes me as funny - if big American studios finance a movie, why don't they just distribute it here as well? I kind of get that Warner isn't really set up for limited releases, but it's kind of their own fault for dismantling New Line, Warner Independent, Picturehoue, etc. rather than making use of them.

Anyway, the movie itself is fun, especially since it's one of the first times I've had the same sort of reaction to digital effects that I do to practical ones - not really caring about the shortcomings because I can feel the handcrafting. I tend to reject that sort of argument anyway, in part because I get very frustrated by people acting like anything done on a computer just involves pressing a "Do It" button, but the techniques certainly tend to yield different sorts of results. This has a real Ray Harryhausen feel, what with its crazy monsters and mythological underpinnings. Different mythologies, certainly, but that's sort of the fun.

Heck, it also reminded me of some of the old, genuinely weird movies Garo Nagoshi and Clinton McClung used to show at the Weekly Wednesday/Weekend Ass-Kickings, both in that it was taken from Chinese mythology with little explanation provided in the subtitles for us poor westerners and surprisingly violent for what seemed like a children's fantasy. Those were generally against a fairly featureless desert backdrop and represented Heavens and Hells in fairly abstract ways compared to this, but the DNA is the same. I knew this as soon as we cut to Zhong Kui trying to exorcise a pregnant woman only to have some giant Cerebus thing leap from he loins. It was a reverse angle, but, yikes!

I'll spare you this week's "photo taken of the end credits so I can get actor/character names", because I was darn lucky that the top-line people were even legible, what with the movie being in 3D and all.

Zhong Kui fu mo: Xue yao mo ling (Zhong Kui: Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 27 February 2015 in AMC Boston Common #15 (first-run, RealD 3D)

Maybe the best way to describe Zhong Kui: Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal (to give it the full name that appears on-screen) is to imagine if Ray Harryhausen had been born in China, making the sort of weird fantasies that were popular in Hong Kong in the 1970s, only he had access to twenty-first century CGI and performance capture. It's rough and all over the place, but also a fair amount of fun.

It takes place in and around the Tang Empire city of Hu, which is apparently right next door to Heaven and Hell. A once-a-millennium day of reincarnation is approaching, and local god Master Zhang Daoxian (Winston Chao Wen-hsuan) has recruited lord Zhong Kui (Chen Kun) to slay demons, going so far as to sneak into Hell to retrieve the Dark Crystal, a repository of souls stolen by demons. The Demon King wants it back by the full moon, and has sent a performing troupe of demons led by chameleon Xi Wei (Summer Jike Juanyi) and Snow Girl Xue Qing (Li Bingbing) to retrieve it - made more complicated by the fact that Xue Qing is a spitting image of "Little Snow", a seemingly magical girl he met three years ago.

Six writers are credited here, along with researchers, and I've got no idea just how much they have skewed or mangled the mythological figures presented here. What they have done is to cram a lot of it into one movie, from gods to demons and shapeshifters to dragons, with a story that keys on how people have seven spirits and three souls. For all that is shown on screen, there is even more implied; Chinese mythology always seems to imply more levels to the world than one can imagine. The writers never quite make clear just exactly what the souls in the Dark Crystal actually do, although the ultimate stakes are made clear. There are parts of the movie that seem like they had an idea that just didn't fit with the rest of the story, and others where things are barely described - Xi Wei seems to be around or not in completely arbitrary manner.

Full review on EFC

No comments: